Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Today is August 9th. We are over a week ‘post result’. No, not from Boris Johnson’s prime ministerial employment upgrade, but from the announcement of this year’s Love Island winners. But you knew that already, right?
Whether you watched the programme or not, the gargantuan proportions of the show’s popularity were pretty hard to miss. And this comes from the writing voice of someone who is not currently living in the UK. From my current writing spot in the Portuguese countryside, even I managed to know when it started and who was up next to chat to Phil and Holly.
How could anyone escape the winning news when it overtook international crises, political elections, and pretty much every newsfeed available to us in its final airing. Love Island was not a series that was easily missed by any account. Including those of your social media.
Curiously, the show didn’t make much of a mark in its debut series back in 2015. Even with the added fly trap of a celebrity cast, it flopped. The second attempt was much the same, with little to no social nor journalistic note taken of its hopeful presence.
But then the ‘reality glamour’ era truly hit us, and the ITV show became an integral part of not only British popular culture, but international social discussion. As an inescapable programming wonder-product, it seems to be here to stay.
But how did this low budget, simple format evening show manage such a ratings feat? And why is the world still gripped by its storylines, with a keen ear kept to the ground for the circulating rumours of a winter series?
Love Island closely followed in Channel 4’s culturally groundbreaking footsteps of its reality supergiant; Big Brother. In capitalising on our human obsession with love and relationships from a gossip based perspective, Big Brother stirred up much of the thirst the UK now has for reality television. Love Island simply mirrored its efforts, adding in storylines. Oh, and some scantily clad cast members.
Love Island has the UK in its voyeuristically gratifying sweaty palms. And this ratings giant hasn’t finished it’s growth spurt just yet. But what else could the show bring to our lives, aside from a commonality in the office lunchroom as we unwrap our sandwiches?
As a long time campaigner for social change relating to love and relationships, I was initially resistant to the romantic charms of Love Island. I chose to disengage, deeming it as a poor example to young people for how love will be when the find it for themselves. And indeed what their bodies need to look like in the mean time. I switched over when it came on my TV planner and clicked off of the numerous promoted videos suggested to me on my browser.
But then, I took a closer look. Not from any particular fold of my values. But because I realised that I had been blindsiding myself. My stubborn ‘I don’t watch it because I value young people’ rhetoric had unseen implications that meant I was missing a blatant opportunity. One I now believe we cannot miss out on.
Will Tommy and Molly-Mae make it long term? Has Amber finally got all she deserved? What was Flack’s real thoughts about that unearthed tweet about her past? Ask a teenager - they’ll tell you.
Because despite the late hour of the show, any parent or teacher of teenagers will know the social popularity of keeping up with the islanders antics. It’s become a teen ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ phenomena. Except with live reminders from the show’s dedicated app.
As advocates for healthy relationships - what can we do with all this? How can we harness the beast’s power now that it’s lumbered into our living rooms, for the greater good?
I am currently in the process of designing a relationship education workshop for secondary schools. This has involved chats with British teenagers to find out what they’d really like to know about love and dating. Although these conversations have been useful, they haven’t unearthed a way to connect with high schoolers that will really hit home.
What we need to successfully bring about change in young people's relationship perspectives is the magical - yet elusive - educational tool of sparked interest. In the same way a hungry belly is a chef’s strongest ingredient, the best way to engage a group of students is to give them a reason to want to know about the subject I am there to talk about. Ultimately, to prevent them from falling into abuse relationships later in life.
And what better way to do this, than to reference something they already care about. Something that they can refer to with friends in order to be able to broach the tricky subject of whether their new boyfriend is making them feel uncomfortable, or whether it’s OK to not want sex yet.
Perhaps the educational model we’ve been looking for, is the one they tune into every night in the later part of their academic year. Perhaps it’s been staring us in the face from our screens, all along.
It’s long been debated whether Love Island sets a negative example of relationships. But perhaps instead of writing it off for its crimes, we can harness these examples as resources. As useful scenes to talk to young people about, to gauge what they perceive from it. Maybe the Tommy’s and the Amber’s can be the characters of the otherwise fabricated scenarios we might have used as examples.
In an era of smartphones, the viewing of shows like these is inevitable. I won’t ever be a total fan of the format, nor the adverse affects it can have. But, like many challenges in life, perhaps it’s not a case of what the beast is, but how we put it to work for us.
I am still in the process of speaking with teenagers about my school workshop plans. They are the ones to thank for my reference to snapchat and all these teen populous in this article, in fact.
But there is one thing I’m sure of - which is that as long as Love Island creates dramas of the heart, so too will there be opportunities for relationship education. And as educators and campaigners for the prevention of future relationship abuse, what better way to promote the awareness that is so badly needed.